Family History specialist Audrey Collins discusses how researchers can get the most out of the London Gazette, Britain’s oldest continually-published newspaper.
Published date: 19 November 2010
Thank you very much for coming to ‘The London Gazette – not just the brave and the bankrupt’ … for those of you who don’t know me, my job is Family History specialist, so that will give you an idea of the slant today’s talk will take. But it’s not just useful for family historians; there are lots of wonderful things in the London Gazette that are very useful for local historians.
But as a family historian, which I’m sure many of you are, when you are learning about this or that in family history, you will often find a reference to ‘Oh you can find that in the London Gazette’, and eventually I did actually look at the London Gazette and I found that there was a lot more in it than just the things that you are routinely sent to look at which is the bankrupts and the gallantry awards; those are the most popular ones.
In fact if you look at our National Archives website, or our list of research guides out in the search room, we have about 300 in-depth research guides, 24 of them recommend that you look at the London Gazette for something or other. Half of those are to do with military matters or gallantry awards of some kind, and quite a few of the others refer to bankruptcy, winding up of businesses and that sort of thing, but as I said, there is a lot more than that.
Now what I want to do in this talk is just to give you first of all a little bit of history of the London Gazette, just a bit of background of it; a little bit about how to search it online which is the way that most of us now use it; some of the limitations of searching online but how you can get round some of those as well; and then finally the sort of thing that you might find in there, and …I hope you will be as surprised as I was when I really started having a good rummage and browsing in it.
I came across a lovely quote; when the Gazette was first set up, and it was the Oxford Gazette, Samuel Pepys said: ‘This day the first of the Oxford Gazettes came out, which is very pretty, full of news and no folly in it.’ That was a rather nice quote. In those days there really was nothing that we would think of as a newspaper but it was during the 17th century and the Civil War in particular when people really wanted news, and you got the beginnings of broadsheets and the first things that you might recognisably call a newspaper or something that developed into a newspaper.
Now given the circumstances of that century, which was a fairly turbulent one in English history, once the monarchy was restored there was very tight control over the press generally. The London Gazette, (which started out for its first few issues as the Oxford Gazette because the Royal Court had very prudently moved itself to Oxford to get away from the plague that was rattling through London at the time) the first Gazette, was produced ‘by authority’, and this meant it was officially sanctioned and the really important bits of news, things that people really ought to know about as far as the monarchy were concerned, would be published in an authorised form and would be circulated throughout the country so that people would know what was going on.
In those early years you get, quite different to the London Gazette now in many ways, you get lots of international news which might have been fed back by ambassadors overseas, but you also get, right at the bottom end of it, people would insert adverts for runaway servants, and really the sort of small ads, those sort of things. There was a massive contrast; you got really big momentous pieces of news and what is now ‘great moments in history’ and you also got the smaller and the more mundane.
The London Gazette, as it became in 1666, had pretty much had the field to itself for quite a while. Then you got into the 18th century and there were the beginnings of recognisable newspapers that were not government issue. So there was a certain amount of competition, but people still needed to get the Gazette, essentially if their job required it because it had official information that was in it, but the 18th century maybe was not the most glorious for the London Gazette.
But when you get into the 19th century, there is a lot more officialdom about, so there is a lot more official information that needs to be circulated from an authoritative source and although particularly by the middle of the 19th century you get massive competition from what are real newspapers now, when they stopped taxing adverts and stopped taxing newspapers in the middle of the century, you get this tremendous explosion of local and national newspapers, so there was a tremendous amount of competition with other newspapers which were things that people might want to read as opposed to the London Gazette which was something that you might need to read.
I found a wonderful commentary on this in Punch in 1851 which was just round about the time when there was this great press explosion and in the rather condescending way that Punch often had it says: ‘What’s the use of the Gazette? Somebody has lately asked the question whether there is any particular use in continuing that celebrated periodical called the London Gazette, which it is admitted on all hands that nobody ever looks into.’
‘As a newspaper it may be worth preserving as a curiosity in these days, for a journal without leading articles, without reviews, without dramatic notices, without accidents or offences, without police reports and indeed without everything in the shape of information or instruction, is to the newspaper press what Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet left out, is to the drama.’
‘The editor of the London Gazette must be a very remarkable individual, and indeed we know of no journal, except our old friend Lloyd’s List, that can at all be put in competition with it! The literary staffs of Lloyd’s List do occasionally get an opportunity of showing what they can do with the pen, for they are suffered now and then to grow eloquent upon the state of the wind! But the core of the London Gazette can never be permitted to make a remark on any subject whatsoever.’
‘If the publication is to be continued, we think something ought to be done to render it amusing, and we would suggest therefore that the bankrupts should be done in blank verse; that a man should be permitted to declare his insolvency in a song, or that a lively duet, with original music, should be the medium of announcing a dissolution of partnership. Unless something is done to give vitality to the London Gazette, it must eventually die away. For a journal with nobody to write it and nobody to read it is an anomaly in literature which cannot long exist in the present advanced state of society.’
Well, that was in 1851 and the London Gazette is still being published. Punch, on the other hand … you know the rest. But I thought that was quite a revealing quote.
I’m going to go right up to date now and go to the online version of the London Gazette, and this is just a screen shot of the home page … [You can find this at www.gazettes-online.co.uk], which also incorporates the Belfast and Edinburgh Gazettes. And at first glance you can see this is a current publication, this is all to do with what’s going on now, but as a researcher, the bit that you want … and you will see references to quite familiar things like the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, that sort of thing, which does appear in the Gazette of course … but this bit here where it says ‘Historians’, that’s where you want to go to search the contents of the London Gazette right back to 1665.
Before I go into that, the other thing I would draw your attention to…[is a link] that says ‘About the Gazette’. If you follow that it goes to quite a lot of useful information about the history of the Gazette and there is a document that you can download, and I’d recommend that you have a look at that because that gives you a very good overview of how the Gazette came about and there are some links to some quite interesting notices that have appeared in it.
So, you have identified yourself as a historian and you’re going to the search page. When you’re there, there is a lot of very useful help and this is not what you get on a lot of websites as I’m sure you will know; sometimes the help is really quite cursory but this I think is very good, and there are quite a lot of frequently asked questions here, and you can use those to help you make more constructive use of your searches.
[Shows web page]
Now this is the advanced search page, this is where you’ll get to. There is a basic search, which is literally just a key word search and that’s okay, they’re quite fun sometimes, but bearing in mind that you are searching about 350 years of a publication, it may be not the ideal way of searching for anything.
[Indicates web page]
This takes you to the advanced search, by the way, though there is another alternative which is called the search builder and that really does the same sort of thing, but it does it a screen at a time. They will both get you to the same place in the end; I happen to prefer this one, but there really isn’t a lot in it.
[Indicates web page]
Now, you will see that at the top, you’ve got ‘Select a historic event’, and this will is helpful because a lot of people will be using the popular parts of the Gazette, in particular the First World War for Gallantry medals, that’s probably one of the most heavily resources used by people here, and there are various other things that you might want to select, but if you want to put in your own date range because you’re not searching for things specifically to do with the Battle of Waterloo or something, you’ve got this facility here [indicates web page] if you just want to search a single date, if you’ve already got a citation and you know exactly which dates Gazette you want, you can just fill in that in there.
If you want to make a range of dates to limit your search, you put the first and the last in those two boxes. Unfortunately, and it’s only a tiny little gripe, when you are doing a span of years to search, you do have to put a month and a day as well, you can’t just go ’1900 to 1920′ but that’s a very small quibble because it does very well in almost every other way.
And then at the bottom, you’ve got your search terms, and this is where you can put in the words that you want to search for, say, a combination of words in any order, so if you’ve got somebody’s name for example, their first name and their last name, you can put them in there, and that will find anywhere that those two words appear, so if the person’s got a middle name, it will still find them. You’ll probably get a lot of other rubbish as well.
There’s an ‘all word’ search. There is also an ‘exact phrase’ search which can be useful, or there is a ‘with at least one of the words’, and that gives you quite a lot of control over the searches. But the other one which might be useful is the ‘page number’. Now you’re very unlikely to intuitively know what a page number is, but you may have a citation from somewhere, or you may have looked at one of the printed indexes, so you can go straight to it without bothering at all with any keyword searches. And then when you’ve done that you hit search.
Before I go onto the results of a search that I did, I’m just going to show you the drop-down for that historic events, so you’ll see the really popular things there: World War One, World War Two and the Boer War, but you can also go to the edition that tells you about the Great Fire of London, or the Crown jewels stolen by Colonel Blood, so there’s quite a nice variety there, just to give you an idea of what there is that you’ve got as a pre-set search.
What I’m going to show you next illustrates some of the limitations of doing a search in the London Gazette, or in any on-line newspaper archive. Really the only way that you can hope to index a newspaper, or something of this sheer bulk, is by OCR: Optical Character Recognition; you get a machine to read it. And if something is printed, the machine will be able to read it reasonably well. It won’t be perfect. It does a remarkably good job, I think, and it even copes with some of the early ones where you’ve got the old fashioned S’s that look like F’s.
But it is a bit on the hit and miss side, and to illustrate this, I did a search, just a single keyword search, for what I thought would be a fairly modern word, to see what the earliest instance of it was. And that word was ‘internet’ … I’ve got the results in date order, and the earliest instance of the word ‘internet’ is 7 September 1813. Well that can’t be right, can it? …
[Shows example on screen of how Optical Character Recognition has misread words in the Gazette]
One of the things I like about the London Gazette which you don’t get in very many other newspaper searches is that it shows you at least a little bit of the uncorrected OCR version. And you will see that one there; it says ‘Action, or internet on the above, nth, nth, nth’. I think that might be mentioned, but, you see what I mean, and then, the one below; that’s actually not too bad, that’s got quite a lot of real words in it, but it does illustrate that you will get most things, but you won’t get everything, and just to see what this 7 September issue was, you will see that that’s the offending bit; it actually says ‘interest’, but it’s a bit smudged.
So that’s what the OCR has done with it, and that’s the explanation and I think that’s a very good way of just reminding yourself that it’s good, but it’s not a 100%, and you can go on and do the same thing with another one, in this case DVD, another fairly modern word, and that goes back to 1739 and you can see how variable the results are there. I particularly like the third one down: ‘the farmer desealed’.
But you get the idea. So bear that in mind when you are searching, and this would apply if you’re searching the Times online or any other online newspaper index, that, it is fallible, it’s not going to be 100% and that is the explanation for not finding things that you know are there because you’ve seen the hard copy. And once you know that, there are ways of dealing with it and getting round it and one of these is a combination of the old and the new, and that is to use printed indexes.
We have some of those; we have them here for the War years, because these are the ones that are really heavily used and I have very often heard my colleagues saying: ‘Oh, never use the online version, you can’t find anything in it’. Well, in some cases you can’t, but if what you are looking for is … a Gallantry award for example, you can look it up in one of the printed indexes; you get the date of the Gazette, or at least the year of it, and the page number, and that will take you straight to it, so a combination of the two.
The online one does not completely replace the old one, but using the best features of both, you can get a lot more out of it. This one is just the first page. I picked this one pretty much at random from the shelves, and this is just the ‘A’ page for the printed index for 1915 and I thought that’s quite a nice thing to put up there, because it gives you an idea of some of the range of subjects that are covered. There’s a ‘Foreign Animals Order’. [There is] a lot there about foot and mouth. ‘Parasitic Mange Order of 1911′ – I bet you didn’t know that existed. And so on, so there are a whole lot of different subjects there.
This is the bit that you’re most likely to look at if you’re looking for gallantry awards, and they come under the heading of State Intelligence in this period, and there you see you’ve got all those names there, it’s all 1915 and you’ve got the page numbers, so if you wanted to look for one of those, you might well find it easier to use the printed index if you’ve got access to it which you do if you’re here, and then just put in the page number, and that will take you directly to it.
We do have the London Gazette here on microfilm as well as the online version which you can access anywhere, it’s free to use, and I would recommend that you use the online one, if at all possible, even if you have to use an index first, because you get a much crisper, clearer print from the online one than from the microfilms, ‘cos they have seen some use. So that’s just a combination. Much as I love technology and new things, sometimes the old way is still a good way of doing things.
And this, something I mentioned earlier; one of the important events in history, there’s the report on the Great Fire of London, so one of their first scoops, if you like: the Great Fire of London in 1666.
[Boom sound effect plays]
And I promise you that is the only time I’ve used gimmicks and things, I have never ever used a sound effect on a PowerPoint before and I probably won’t again, but there you go: the Great Fire of London.
And then this is another example of what you would call ‘big history’, big news: this is trouble in the colonies, 1774: ‘whereas dangerous commotions and insurrections have been fomented and raised in the town of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts, Bay and New England, by diverse ill affected persons to the subversion of His Majesty’s government and to the utter destruction of the public peace and good order of the said town’ etc, and then it goes on to mention the dread word ‘tea’, and we all know what happened after that. So, you can follow bits of ‘big history’, if you like, in the London Gazette, and I rather enjoy doing that. And the other sort of ‘great events’, well, I wouldn’t necessarily think they’re very great, but you get Royal news.
This is from 1776, and you’ve got news celebrating the birthday of the Great Duchess in St Petersburg, and the London Gazette is sending compliments to the Empress, and so on, and then mourning below that: the orders for the court going into mourning for Her late Serene Highness, Ernestine Frederica Sophia, Hereditary Princess of Saxe-Coburg, and then the detailed instructions of what the ladies were to wear, in a lot of detail, and then what the men were going to wear. It’s not really what you’d call a fashion page but it was advice on what you should wear.
But an awful lot that you will look at in the Gazette is to do with military matters. And this is some notices from 1798, and these are not things that are full of names, which is why I’ve pointed them out here, because these are matters of background, but what was going on? I mean this is the Navy Office, inviting people to tender for a particular Land and Water Carriage of about 350 loads of timber. Well if you’re a historian of the navy itself as opposed to the people who served in it, this is quite interesting to know how they went about their business.
The one immediately below there is a military one; this is the Pay Office from Horse Guards, so 1798, and the Right Honourable Paymaster General of His Majesty’s Forces is summoning officers on half pay to come and collect their money. And that’s something I’ve often thought about, because you don’t have bank transfers in the 18th Century; [for] people who were getting money for whatever reason, were getting wages or a pension or half pay, there had to be a means of their actually getting it. And that’s, again, it’s a little window on history, what people did, what people had to do to go about their business.
But what you’re much more likely to look at are records to do with individuals in the military, and although this is reasonably well covered elsewhere, I’m just going to show you an example.
You get details of military commissions. We think of the gallantry awards as the really big, popular resource, but of course, you get people [with] military commissions as people get promoted, and the amount of information in there does vary, but you will sometimes get notes of not only somebody’s promotion but who they are replacing, in the earlier ones particularly, before the army was reformed, and you bought and sold commissions.
And this one (I’m just using this as a sort of case study here) and this is in the Royal Artillery, the militia: ‘William Eagleson Gordon, Gentleman, to be a Lieutenant’, and this is in 1886, and then a couple of years later, this is 1888, and there he is again, ‘Lieutenant William Eagleson Gordon, from the 3rd Brigade, Scottish Division Royal Artillery, to be Second Lieutenant’, and if you really wanted to you could chase this man’s career all the way through, although I haven’t found every single promotion by just doing a search on his name, because the OCR won’t always pick it up perfectly, but combined with other sources you can find out quite a lot. And there he is in 1907 being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
And he’s quite a nice case study because he also won the VC. And there he is winning the VC in 1900, going out alone to the nearest gun under heavy fire and summoning the men to follow him, and they’re probably thinking ‘this lunatic’s going to get us all killed’. But, you know, he was extremely brave and although it was a gun and not a person he was rescuing at least it was a gun that couldn’t then be turned on you, so good for him, he won the VC.
And you’d think, having done that for his country that the London Gazette, with its pride in accuracy, would get it right, but unfortunately they spelt his name wrong and he’s there as William Engleson Gordon. However, they did correct it when informed, so if you were searching for his VC, you would find it by searching with his full name, but you won’t go directly to the original page; you will go to the correction which appeared some time later, but that gives you the date of the Gazette, so you would find it.
So that’s quite a nice example there, and this is something where you might think ‘Well, I know it’s there, I’ve seen it, the OCR didn’t get me there.’ Well, the OCR in this case, actually was spot on, but [as for] the original, it was a rare example of the London Gazette not getting it quite right, but it did correct it later so they get points for that.
…Colonel William Eagleson Gordon VC [as he ended]: when he died in 1941, a notice appeared in the London Gazette just informing anybody who had a claim under his will to contact the solicitors, and this is the sort of notice you will find a very great deal of, and that gives you a certain amount of information about him. If you’re actually trying to find out about him, there’s quite a lot about him in print and online, but if you were looking for somebody who wasn’t a Colonel and hadn’t won the VC you’d still be able to find this sort of notice. This one relates to a will, but you do also get a number where someone has died intestate, and the solicitors are advertising to try and find the heirs at law, although [among] the ones I’ve looked at, [there are] an awful lot of wills, but you do get a fair number of intestates.
Something I discovered which was most intriguing was a lot of lists of intestates from the colonies, and this is just one example: this is from the Supreme Court of New South Wales and there are pages and pages and pages of these for various colonies at different times, but you get lots of intriguing extra information. I mean this one here: ‘John Higgins: killed by accident on the 29 July 1847: supposed real name Higginbottom.’ Now that’s a little piece of information you might not otherwise find.
And there are various other ones here. Another one, William Elliot, was drowned in the wreck of the Sovereign on 11 March 1847, and just directly above him, the unfortunate William Thompson, whose estate was only just over £5, it just says ‘funds exhausted’. They probably spent all of that on advertising.
But this is a marvellous source, and these shots that I put there are just of examples … If you want to go and look at these at your leisure and browse a few pages before and after, you will find that there is a lot more there. There are pages and pages and pages of these things, and you can do a few keyword searches to find them in other editions as well. And this is a tremendously good source; you think of all those family historians who’ve got somebody who went off to Australia and nobody knew what happened to them, well, they might fetch up in one of these, possibly with their right name, or possibly not. So that’s a great source which I suspect is very underused.
Just going back to something which is a fairly commonplace one: honours and awards; I’ve spoken about gallantry awards in the military and there are also civilian gallantry awards. But actual knighthoods, the things that you now see in the Queen’s Birthday honours, The Dissolution honours, New Year, all that sort of thing; this is just one example of many, many that are there.
This is me just choosing somebody that I quite like, because I’m very interested in the history of retail, and that in 1929 is Sir Jessie Boot, as in Boots the Chemist, becoming Baron Trent of Nottingham, and you could actually trace quite a lot about Sir Jessie Boot in the London Gazette. There’s a very, very long, detailed account of a Royal visit to Nottingham, and a loyal address, and then the Queen and King paid tribute to Sir Jessie Boot for his services to education because he pretty much bankrolled Birmingham University and there are lots of lovely long detailed accounts, but I’ve just picked out one as an example.
Well, Sir Jessie Boot was very famous and very wealthy and very important, but right down at a much, much lower level of society, there is a lot of information, with names, about people like me, really; fairly low grade civil servants, and this is a report of the competitive examinations in 1874. The Civil Service Commission was formed in 1871 and you’ve got a proper structure of competitive examinations, and this page here, I think it’s rather nice; again, picking up on one of my special interests, because, well, it’s my talk, my rules, I get to pick the examples, and I’m very interested in the general register office and how it worked and how it developed. This is the announcement of the competitive examinations for an index compiler and statistical abstracter, and an Index compiler did exactly what you think he did; he was one of the men, and they were all men at this point, responsible for making the indexes which used to be in books and we now look at online, but these are, if you like, what you may consider to be the guilty men.
But the exam that they had to do; they had to be between 18 and 21, and they were examined in handwriting, orthography, arithmetic including vulgar and decimal fractions (anybody remember those?), English composition, and if they failed in any of the above named subjects they would not be eligible and so on. And then sometime later, these are the successful candidates: Harry John Rait, George Henry Jeffers, Charles Albert Baker and Henry Harridence. Now I’m such a sad act I actually recognise these names, because as I said, I have done a lot of work on the General Register Office and found lots of lists.
But we quite often get asked here in The National Archives if we’ve got records of civil servants, and actually we don’t on the whole. But the London Gazette, at least from this period onwards, is a very, very good source for finding appointments and promotions. Now this particular example was ‘competitive examinations’. But you also get all the ordinary run of the mill appointments and promotions, and they go right down to a fairly low level; there are appointments of boy messengers, and you don’t really get an awful lot lower than that, and this also includes the Post Office which you don’t think of as part of the civil service, but they went through the same competitive exams.
So if you had somebody who you know or think was a fairly lowly civil servant, or worked for the Post Office, you might well find them in the London Gazette, you’ll find their appointment and if they were any good, maybe some promotions as well.
So going on to something completely different, I found this rather nice set of records. This is from 1855, the Paris Exhibition, and this was just one part of one page of a lot of people and companies whose designs or goods had been accepted to be exhibited at the Palace exhibition later that year. And this one you can see, some of these are companies, where it is ‘Something and co.’, plainly you’ve got a company, but some of them are individuals: Samuel Leek Worth, of 293 Oxford Street, submitted a knife cleaning machine. So they’re not necessarily huge, great big companies, although some of them are.
And you know, [this is] James Weir and company, felt manufacturers and there’s quite a lot there and, again, it’s nice to look for names. If you’ve got somebody who was an inventor in the family, you might well find them here, and although I haven’t got any examples of it, you may also find somebody is registering their patent as well, to a particular design or an industrial process. But some of the people in here, they’re just ordinary people who in their line of business – they have designed a better mousetrap. Actually, I’ve never thought of doing a search … as I just said that, [I realised that] I hadn’t thought of doing a keyword search of ‘mousetrap’ but maybe I will now.
So you do find ordinary people running smallish businesses, well I’m sure some of them were hobby inventors, so that’s a whole resource there and there are pages and pages of this. You see this is just exhibitors of machinery, but there were lots and lots of other classes.
[This is a] different thing altogether and this will on the whole not have names in it, but Public Health; this particular one is from 1831, which is informing people of the various rules and regulations that came into force to stop the spread of cholera. I mean unfortunately in 1831 nobody really knew exactly how you should stop the spread of cholera. They sometimes did the right things but for the wrong reasons; they thought it was bad air.
But this is quite an instructive thing and I’ve only got an extract from it here but there is quite a lot of this sort of thing that describes in very great detail what the regulations were and what people were required to do, so this is a great one for the social historians, or even a local historian or a family historian and it’s quite a good way of finding when there were particular epidemics, which you may be interested in because you’ve suddenly found an awful lot of people in your family suddenly dying in great numbers or people in a particular place – a sudden upsurge in the number of deaths or burials. So this is something that [suggests] there might have been a cholera epidemic.
And then going on a bit further: 1875, here are some rules for how they should be running fever and smallpox asylums. I bet they were a lovely place to be in. And then, and this is only a short extract, really what I could fit onto a page, but there is lots and lots more of this. And in this particular case, this is specifically for the London area, this is Metropolitan Asylum district, so you do get quite a lot of detail about exactly how everyone was to be [dealt with], you know, all the paperwork which had to be filled in which of course was terribly important. Well it was, because if it wasn’t for the paperwork we wouldn’t have so many records to look at now, although the paupers being admitted at the time might not have seen it that way. Again, this all adds local colour and a bit of detail.
Now I have already mentioned that I’m terribly interested in General Register Office so you’re going to get a bit more of it now. But this is a very useful resource – something that was always required to be listed in the Gazette was when buildings were licensed for the performance of marriages. After 1837, when civil registration started, the vast majority of marriages were still in the Church of England, and that went without saying, so you won’t find Church of England churches here on the whole, but for the first time, marriages could be performed legally in non-conformist places of worship.
A registrar had to be present, at least up until 1898. A registrar had to be present to make it official, but the other thing was that the building had to be registered; you couldn’t just go and marry in your living room or in the case of the Salvation Army – they did actually enquire once if a tent could be licensed for the performance of marriages in the course of one of their missions and the Registrar General said no. But on the whole, in the case of non-conformist churches, they would be licensed and then a notice would appear in the Gazette.
This is quite useful if you’re trying to find out where places of marriage were, or when they were extant for the performance of marriages, and I’ve picked just one here, but if you trace them through sometimes, you will find a particular church or chapel, and then some years later it’s disused either because they’ve built a new building and they’ve moved to that, or because the congregation has dwindled away. But this is a very useful way of finding where people could get married, other than the Church of England.
And related to this, you will also get notices of boundary changes in registration districts, and these can be quite tricky because up until the 1920s, registrars were not salaried. They were paid on piece work, basically; the number of events that they registered, the amount of certificates they issued and various other jobs. So if you changed the boundaries of somebody’s district, that could have a direct impact on their income. So up until the 1920s you tend to get odd little piecemeal changes in boundaries at odd intervals, and this is because if somebody died or retired and the boundaries needed rejigging, that was an opportunity to do it, so you don’t get a nice sweeping Boundary Commission type review all in one go. You get all these little odd ones, and this can be quite useful if you’re wondering why somebody suddenly appears and they don’t seem to move but they’re in a different district, it might be because the boundary has changed, and If you’re doing a local history then this could be very relevant indeed, because it might be very important to know exactly where the boundaries were at a particular time.
Now, the one that I showed last, the place of marriage, was in Week Street in Maidstone and I did a little bit of a micro-history really, a very, very local history, just that one street which even now is a main shopping street in Maidstone, and I was trying to find all sorts of information about it and seeing what I could find online, and I discovered something which I previously did not know about in, again, the wonderful old London Gazette, and this is ‘Sales by Auction’ and there are a number of these following the resolution of Chancery cases, and this says: ‘To be peremptorily re-sold …’ and it mentions the Chancery case Beadle versus Russell and five others, and then it gives the dates of them, and then it describes the properties.
And for a local historian, this is wonderful, because we’ve got: ‘A dwelling house and garden in the high street, late in the occupation of Dr Robert Smith’, and so on, ‘also a dwelling house and shop adjoining, in the occupation of Mr Richard Scoons, tenant at will. Also 12 several brick built cottages in the Fair- Meadow, a dwelling house, grocer shop and warehouse in Week Street, in the occupation of Messrs Pigram and Son, tenants at will, also a roomy warehouse in Earl Street, Maidstone, in the occupation of the said Messrs Pigram and Son and their under tenants at will. Also a dwelling house and premises adjoining in the occupation of Thomas Jury, tenant at will.’
Well that tells you a tremendous amount, not just about the people and the place, but the nature of their occupation; if they were tenants or under tenants. So if you are studying a street or a very small area or even a particular building (you’d be awfully lucky if you did find a particular building that you were looking at) but this gives you an enormous amount of detail that I really can’t see you would find in many other sources.
And on the basis of something like this, you could then follow this up, which I haven’t done, but, because we know the name of the Chancery case, I just did a search for Beadle versus Russell in our National Archives catalogue, and there you have got three results, and the bottom one there…the first two is fairly obvious – Beadle and Russell, seven answers and then ‘answer only’ in that wonderful way that you have with Chancery cases – you’ve got little bits of record dotted around, but there is a file which is just Beadle versus Russell; it doesn’t give a date. If you look at that in a bit more detail, you find that this is from Chancery Master’s account books, and they’re not catalogued in an enormous amount of detail but frankly if you found Beadle and Russell and that’s the case you’re interested in, that document would be worth looking at.
So there is an awful lot that you can take and then follow up in other sources. You could do that with a lot of the other things, but I thought I’d just pick out one example to show you as something that you can do, because that refers so directly to something that I knew we would have here, so that’s a way of not just using the information that’s in the London Gazette, but taking it to develop your research in other sources.
Also on the theme of local history, a very useful thing that appears is the notices of new streets. Now you won’t be able to read that, but I’ve just enlarged that so you can see, this is just a section of it. St Luke’s, Chelsea in 1855, there are all these streets which, they already exist, they all have houses in them, but they are now formally being adopted as public highways, and it lists all the streets: Caversham Street, Christchurch Terrace, Elizabeth Street, Halsey Street, Milner Street (east end), and then in some detail it lists all the streets or which bits of them, so this is tremendously useful for the local historian, and as well as just listing the streets when they become adopted, and streets particularly in London and big cities have a terrible habit of changing their names and sometimes, this might be one of the sources you could use to try and unravel this. You will also get, rather later than 1855, wonderful things like this: when the trams came to a particular place.
This example here is from 1884, and it’s for Burton-on-Trent, and the actual entry goes on and on for pages and pages, but just a small bit of it is about the construction of tramways ‘in the townships of Burton-on-Trent, Burton Extra, and Horninglow in the Borough of Burton-on-Trent in the county of Stafford, and in the townships of Winshill and Stapenhill in the said borough, in the county of Derby. Provisions as to use of steam or other mechanical or other power repeal an amendment of acts and for other purposes.’
And then it goes on as I’ve said at very great length, but if you’re interested in a place this is a great way of finding out exactly when the tramways were laid or something similar – very, very useful for a lot of things to so with transport, public works of all kinds really.
Now, I got a bit tired of looking at print all the time and I think you’ve pretty much got the idea of what print looks like, so to come close to the end, I thought a nice coloured picture would make a nice change, and one of my favourite sources in the London Gazette is Royal Warrant holders, and this picture is the rather lovely Arms on one of my favourite shops, Jenner’s Department Store in Edinburgh. It is by quite a long way one of the nicest buildings on Princes Street, and that’s the Royal Arms and there is a plaque underneath it saying that they are By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen, suppliers of, I think it’s soft furnishings.
Well, if you look at Royal Warrants, from 1900 onwards, Royal Warrants were always listed in the London Gazette. The one that this one comes from; they were awarded this in 1911, and I looked at the London Gazette entry for that…and that’s a particularly good year. When I looked at the page that Jenner’s appears on, and there are lots and lots and lots of other businesses, pages and pages and pages and pages of them, you’ve got ‘By Appointment to’ (the fairly new monarch) ‘George V’, you’ve also got a list of the ‘By Royal Appointment to His Late Majesty Edward VII’ and there is even a list of ‘Her Even Later Majesty Queen Victoria’, so there’s a tremendously long list.
Now By Royal Appointment; you associate it with wonderful great things like this, like department stores like Jenners, and Harrods, and companies, but there are lots and lots of fairly modest people in there as well. If you look at the list you will find that people who basically had a sweet shop near Windsor Castle, or on the Isle of Wight, might well be there. It’s not just great big businesses.
So if you had an ancestor who ran a business somewhere in the vicinity of Osborne House or Balmoral or even abroad; you get quite a few cigar shops in Dusseldorf, all sorts of things all over the place, you may well find that there is something in there – your ancestor may have been By Royal Appointment to supply something to the Royal Household; it’s not just for Their Majesties’ personal use, it could be something that their household bought. So there are all sorts of things, [for example] purveyors of flowerpots, all kinds of things, and again if you are doing local history it would be well worth doing a place search or at least finding one of these and skimming through it.
I’ve already mentioned the deficiencies of doing keyword searches; you will find a lot but you won’t necessarily find everything, and sometimes, what I think is a good to do is to do a search, almost a random search, not for anything in particular, or do a date search and just go into an issue and browse through it.
Now, the introduction and what Punch said, and even what the London Gazette’s own history would say of it: it’s not something that people on the whole read for pleasure. Except I think it is now. When you go back and look at the very early ones, it’s a window on the past. Although at the time these were official notices, to us they’re quite fascinating, and they can shed light on the world of 1851 or 1751 and I do like going in and browsing.
Issues of the Gazette vary, from, particularly the early ones, from just two sides, and some of them go up to hundreds of pages. There is enormous variation. It’s very unwise to generalise about the contents of something that’s been in publication since 1665, because of course it’s changed quite a bit over time. But it’s something that is well worth getting to know, and every time I go into it and have a look at something and find something at random I discover something new, and I hope that that’s what you’ll do as well. You’ll go and explore it and you will find something interesting, and then tell all your friends about it because it is just such a wonderful resource, and although it’s used heavily, understandably, for the gallantry awards and looking for bankruptcies and the other sort of ‘top ten’ hits and things that we recommend that you look at in the research guides, there is such a lot more in there that it’s a great fun thing at look at, and it’s free, so what more could you want ?
Now this year is the actually the anniversary of 1910, when the London Gazette actually became an HMSO publication, and I have to be honest, I didn’t realise that when I started writing the talk but I found it in the course of it, but I thought ‘that’s rather nice, isn’t it?’ so somebody up there must have wanted me to do this.
And finally, and this is of absolutely no educational value whatsoever, but I discovered that I actually had this, in a collection of random documents, and this is Harrison and Son, who were the printers, whose contract ran out in 1910, and this is just an invoice and a receipt for a solicitor placing an advert in the London Gazette. Now that is what I call serendipity. Thank you very much.